A bitter row has erupted in the Bradford Conservative Party after Asian members claimed that they were subjected to 'openly racist remarks', including being called 'thieves' and 'drug smugglers'.
At least two senior Asian party officers have contacted the Commission for Racial Equality and are threatening to take legal action against the Conservative Party for racial discrimination.
Conservative Central Office has now suspended the party to investigate claims of racism and corruption after more than 50 members of the local party demanded action from Tory leader Michael Howard.
A dossier of letters sent to Howard and Tory chairman Dr Liam Fox detailing allegations of racism has been obtained by The Observer. In one letter, a Tory member is described as having 'views worse than the BNP'. A separate criticism is that the former chairman of the local party, David Brown, resigned at an executive meeting after an Asian candidate, Haroon Rashid, was selected to fight the next general election. It is claimed he said he could not support an ethnic community candidate and that he had been promised a white candidate.
One of those who has written to Howard listing the allegations is Alyas Khan, the deputy chairman of the Bradford West Conservative Association. Khan joined the party in 1982 and is one of the longest-serving Asian members of the party. He would not comment on the claims while the complaint was under investigation.
Ahmed Rashid, party treasurer in Bradford, who also wrote to Central Office detailing claims of racism, said: 'The issues are serious and I have heard members openly use racist remarks that are intolerable. The promise of a white candidate for the seat, I believe, is also against the law.'
Another Asian member of the party who wished to remain anonymous said: 'I joined the party because I shared its values. I know politics can be filthy but I was unprepared for some of the extreme views I heard... We are hoping to go into government but we need to get our own house in order first.'
The dossier seen by The Observer reveals the race row openly surfaced in October last year when the party selected Rashid, a British Airways executive, as its candidate to fight the seat. White activists within the party were backing Simon Cooke, the deputy leader of Bradford council, who made a Nazi salute and called out 'Sieg Heil' at the end of a speech by German-born Labour councillor during a council debate. No action was taken against Cooke, who apologised afterwards.
Six months after Rashid was selected he was a target for a sting by the News of the World. Rashid was secretly videoed allegedly admitting to rigging the selection vote. It was suggested he has used family members to vote who lived outside the area and got a friend to vote in the name of somebody who had been dead for seven years.
Rashid, who is a brother of the party treasurer, denied the claims but was suspended and is the subject of a Central Office investigation. Some factions in the party believe the tabloid sting was helped by rogue elements within the Tory party.
Whoever was responsible set in train a bitter battle of control of the party between white and the 200-plus Asian members, who are in the majority. John Hardy, secretary of the Bradford party, has been trying to mediate between the two sides.He pointed out that in the last two general elections the party had fielded a candidate from the ethnic community who had not won, so there was a genuine debate as to whether a white candidate would fare better.
However, he said: 'I wish it was true that race was not an issue in this whole business, but it is. There are strong views from both white and Asian members of the party.'
A spokesman from the Conservative Central Office said they could not comment until the party's investigation was concluded